Born On: October 13, 1877
Born In: Valsad, Gujarat, India
Died On: May 6, 1946
Career: Teacher, Lawyer, Politician
Indian freedom fighter Bhulabhai Desai is best remembered for his contribution in the field of law. He was one of the most eminent lawyers of British dominated India. His capabilities as a lawyer were realized when Bhulabhai Desai defended three soldiers of the Indian National Army in court, who had been accused of treason to India during the World War II. However, Bhulabhai Desai's career in politics was tainted when his secret agreement with Muslim League leader, Liaquat Ali Khan was leaked only to show him in a bad light. The association with Liaquat Ali Khan not only lost him the support of other leaders in the Indian National Congress, it also spelt doom in his political career. However, it was always India's wellbeing that Bhulabhai Desai had in mind and it was towards the freedom of India that his entire life was dedicated to. In the following lines, we have provided detailed description of Bhulabhai Desai.
Adolescence & Education
Bhulabhai Desai was born on October 13, 1877 in the city of Valsad in Gujarat. His initial years of schooling started at home in Valsad. It was only in the secondary years that he was sent for studies at the Avabai School in Valsad and later to the Bharada High School in Bombay, from where he completed his matriculation, with the highest marks in the batch of 1895. After school, Bhulabhai Desai enrolled at the Elphinstone College in Bombay with English Literature and History as his major subjects of study. He not only graduated successfully with English Literature and History, but also secured the highest score in History and Political Economy. Bhulabhai Desai was awarded the Wordsworth Prize and a scholarship for his outstanding performance by authorities of Elphinstone College. Bhulabhai Desai then went on to complete his M.A. in English from the University of Bombay.
Career in Academics
After competing his studies from the University of Bombay, Bhulabhai Desai returned to Gujarat to join as a professor of English and History in the Gujarat College, located in Ahmedabad. While he was a teacher, Bhulabhai Desai spent his free time studying law. After the completion of studies in law, Bhulabhai Desai quit his position at the Gujarat College to join as an advocate at the Bombay High Court in the year 1905. Bhulabhai Desai went on to become one of the most celebrated lawyers of Bombay city and India as a whole.
Career in Politics
Bhulabhai Desai's first plunge in politics was with Annie Besant's political organization the All India Home Rule League. Bhulabhai Desai had also been part of the Indian Liberal Party, but left his position soon after he realized that the Simon Commission, formed in 1928, was in support of the Europeans, especially the British. The Indian Liberal Party too was largely influenced by the British. From the year 1928, Bhulabhai Desai became highly involved with the activities of the Indian National Congress, after he played an integral role in the Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928, representing the farmers of the region. But it was two years later, in the year 1930, that Bhulabhai Desai became a member of the Congress party. In the year 1932, Bhulabhai Desai was arrested and sent to jail, with the British accusing that the Swadeshi Sabha formed under the leadership of Bhulabhai Desai was functioning illegally in the country. Upon release from jail, he was sent to Europe due to health concerns.
It was on the insistence of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the leader of the Bardoli Satyagraha, that Bhulabhai Desai was included in the Congress Working Committee. In the year 1934, Bhulabhai Desai got elected to the Central Legislative Assembly from Gujarat. After the passing of the Government of India Act 1935, there was a debate as to whether the Congress should participate in the legislature since provincial autonomy was being exercised. It was Bhulabhai Desai who initiated talks of Congress' participation, therefore, when Congress entered the Central Assembly, he was elected as the leader of Congressmen. Later, when the British government in India insisted upon India's participation in World War II, it was Bhulabhai Desai who made it clear that India would not support a war where the country's interests were not served. He participated in the satyagraha initiated by Gandhi, but was arrested on December 10, 1940, under the Defense of India Act and sent to Yeravada jail. He was released from prison in September 1941 on grounds of poor health, which also affected his participation in the Quit India movement.
Desai - Liaquat Pact
Bhulabhai Desai was one of the Congressmen who were not in jail during the Quit India Movement of 1942 - 1945, with all important leaders behind bars. It was at this time that Desai came in touch with Muslim League leader Liaquat Ali Khan, both fighting for the release of the political leaders arrested during the Quit India Movement. Talks between the two progressed to form a coalition government consisting of Hindus and Muslims, so that both sects could work for the country after independence.
In his talks with Bhulabhai Desai, Liaquat Ali Khan said that the Muslim League would drop their demands of a separate state for Muslims, if they were given equal representation in the coalition government. Bhulabhai Desai was also of the opinion that this agreement would mean a quick end to the Quit India Movement, a faster process for India's freedom and the release of important Congress leaders. However, both Bhulabhai Desai and Liaquat Ali Khan had kept their pact a secret from important leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru of the Congress and Mohammad Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League. And this was what led to the fallout of the plan.
When the press became aware of the secret pact entered into by Bhulabhai Desai and Liaquat Ali Khan in the year 1945, reports were made public thus alarming both parties. While Bhulabhai Desai agreed that he had participated in the pact, Liaquat Ali Khan clearly denied any association. This led not only to the failure of the Desai - Liaquat Pact, but also to the end of the road to Bhulabhai Desai's political career. He lost the support of all Congress leaders and was not allowed to contest elections from the Constituent Assembly of India.
INA Soldiers Judgment
Bhulabhai Desai's most important and most reported incident as a lawyer came in the year 1945 during the INA Soldiers trial. Three Indian National Army soldiers Shahnawaz Khan, Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon and Prem Kumar Sahgal were accused of treason against the country during the World War II. Bhulabhai Desai was part of the 17 member defense team of the three INA soldiers. The trial began in October 1945 at Red Fort in Delhi. In spite of the fact that Bhulabhai Desai was ill, his arguments in court, for a period of three months, were passionately delivered. Bhulabhai Desai argued on behalf of the soldiers, keeping in mind the concept of international law and the order of provisional government. The three officers were however pronounced guilty after the hearing and were sentenced to transportation for life. The 1945 case was the most important one in the legal career of Bhulabhai Desai.
Bhulabhai Desai was married to a girl named Ichchhabhen when both were mere schoolchildren and the couple also had a son shortly after marriage, whom they named Dhirubhai. However, the Bhulabhai Desai - Ichchhabhen marriage was not to last long as Ichchhabhen lost her life to cancer in the year 1923.
Bhulabhai Desai died on May 6, 1946. The Bhulabhai Memorial Institute stands till today in Mumbai, commemorating the contribution of Bhulabhai Desai towards the country. Writer M C Setalwad penned 'Bhulabhai Desai Road', the biography of the eminent politician, lawyer and freedom fighter after his death.
1877: Bhulabhai Desai was born on October 13.
1895: Completed his matriculation exams.
1905: Joined the Bombay High Court as advocate.
1923: His wife Ichchhabhen died of cancer.
1928: Got involved with the Bardoli Satyagraha in Gujarat.
1930: Joined the Congress party.
1932: Arrested for leading the Swadeshi Sabha which was an illegal organization.
1934: Elected to the Central Legislative Assembly from Gujarat.
1935: Protested against the Government of India Act.
1940: Spoke out against India's participation in World War II.
1945: Entered into pact with Liaquat Ali Khan.
1945: Defended INA soldiers in court from the months of October to December.
1946: Passed away on May 6.